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Could Infrastructure be What Digital Health Needs to Thrive?

Our Customer Success Manager, Britney, attended Rock Health Summit this year and was able to view what's on the horizon in the world of digital health. In a guest blog, she shares with us her thoughts on the conference, and the need for a stronger sense of infrastructure in "Silicon Valley Healthcare" 

I had a blast at the Rock Health Summit this past September. Whether it was from apps like Wildflower Health empowering Medicaid-dependent women to better manage their health throughout pregnancy, or from data science companies like Imosphere transforming how healthcare professionals use information, I was inspired by the companies in attendance. This Summit rejuvenated my sense of why digital health companies in Silicon Valley do what they do, and it refreshed my understanding of the crucial role digital technology plays in revolutionizing the healthcare system today.

This being said, throughout the conference, it was increasingly clear to me that digital health desperately needs more digital infrastructure. Silicon Valley specializes in rifle-shot solutions to fix specific problems or knowledge gaps in healthcare, yet as a whole lacks the webbing to unite these solutions. Consider digital health companies like Tuki, a startup focused on providing better technology for dietitians, or the very inspiring company Sitka, a startup that educates patients about their medical images by digitally connecting them with expert care providers. Both companies offer great fixes, and add real value to improving patient care and health outcomes, yet both also have difficult pathways to adoption  into the care ecosystem. Fundamentally, this is an infrastructural issue.

Authors Joseph C. Kvedar, MD and Alexander L. Fogel, MBA diagnose the adoption problem as an issue marked by low patient engagement. In their article “Why Real-World Results Are So Challenging for Digital Health” Kvedar and Fogel identify a chasm between trial and practice in digital health products, and relate it to startups’ common struggle to win patient adoption in the real world. They argue that patient-centric digital health companies can bridge the chasm to adoption by leveraging fixes like behavioral economics to drive engagement, gamification, designing product variation, and creating strategic partnerships. Though these changes may help increase patient engagement, many consumers won’t even be aware of these specialized apps’ existence without adequate infrastructure. High patient engagement remains crucial for new health tech, yet we first need to develop a system to easily offer and integrate this technology with a patient’s existing care infrastructure.

Lack of proper infrastructure with which to house all these new specialized technologies can impede innovative healthcare solutions from actually making an impact and bettering patient care.  If the status quo continues, real value coming from small start-ups in digital health will be and continue to be lost. In either case, patient care and health outcomes suffer.

But by creating infrastructure, digital health can accelerate, not stagnate; and better patient care can take off, not flat-line. What’s more, integrating valuable insights, infrastructure can make macro-patterns in the healthcare industry newly transparent. By facilitating coherent data and information transfer, infrastructure can help nurture breakthroughs in research. By intermeshing management tools from digital health apps, creating networks, and facilitating instantaneous communication, infrastructure can improve patient experiences, patient outcomes and increase efficiency industry-wide. We need infrastructure to make the industry change our shared reality.

Others have caught onto this growing need in the healthcare space. CEO of the American Medical Association, James Madera, offers his take on this issue:

"More and more, we're seeing digital tools in medicine that, unlike digital tools in other industries, make the provision of careless, not more, efficient. And these digital tools often don't connect with each other—interoperability remains a dream."

Companies like Miya Health and Oscar Health seem to have perceived this market signal and are acting accordingly. Miya Health centralizes data from the healthcare industry and works to put them in conversation; Oscar Health, the breakout star of the health insurance world,  integrates aspects of patient management tools all in a single app to help patients manage their health, and to facilitate efficient, effective, and meaningful patient management (the testimony about their app is also spot-on: “The Oscar app makes it easy to manage your health, find great care, and see everything in one place [emphasis added]”). Insurance companies possess end to end visibility in health, and as such are one of the best mediums to affect change in the industry.

Even with Miya Health and Oscar Health, digital health has yet to fully capitalize on the need for better tech infrastructure. The time is now, and the industry is overdue. More entrepreneurs and visionaries will seize it in time, yet we must remember that this lack of a centralized system persists ultimately at the expense of patient care.

Who will be the next infrastructure giant of healthcare? It’s too soon to tell, yet as more companies recognize and seek to fill this structural void we can exponentially increase digital health’s impact on patient care: making people healthier and happier worldwide.